The Alberta government says subsidies will be extended to all private, for-profit daycares once the details of a new funding arrangement with the federal government are worked out — but that may not happen for months.
"We are working hard on a framework that includes the equitable inclusion of private child-care operators, which represent the majority of our child-care spaces in Alberta's mixed-market system," Chinenye Anokwuru, press secretary to Alberta Children's Services Minister Mickey Amery, said in an email.
"Once Alberta's cost control framework is established, it will apply to all private and not-for-profit operators."
That framework will attach strings to the funding, limiting the ways in which private daycare operators can use the public money.
In Alberta, unlike other provinces, the majority of daycares operate as for-profit businesses.
Alberta agreed to create a cost control framework for these businesses when it signed the broader childcare funding agreement in November 2021 with the federal government.
The aim of the federal initiative is to steadily reduce the cost of daycare for parents over a period of several years, eventually reaching a maximum of $10 per day.
So far, the funding has already cut daycare fees roughly in half for many Alberta parents, whose children are enrolled in facilities that qualify for the subsidies. This includes non-profit daycares and private, for-profit daycares that existed before the agreement was signed.
The funding was also extended to an additional 2,500 private daycare spaces that were created after the agreement was signed.
But beyond that, new or expanded private daycare spaces don't currently qualify for the funding — which has come as a shock to many operators and parents, alike.
$45M hangs in balance
Under the terms of the agreement, a proposed framework was supposed to have been done by Dec. 31, but negotiations between the province and Ottawa are ongoing on the details of that document.
Both levels of government must sign off on the framework by April 1 in order for a new round of federal funding — nearly $45 million, in total — to be released.
Uncertainty surrounding the funding has prompted some Alberta daycare operators to postpone or cancel their expansion plans.
Others have been stuck in a sort of limbo, hoping the funding will eventually be extended to them, too, but unsure of exactly when and under what conditions.
"That in itself is just absolutely unacceptable," said Krystal Churcher with the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs, an organization that formed to advocate for the industry in response to the uncertainty.
"It's ridiculous to ask businesses to do that," Churcher added. "So I'm really hopeful that they come to us with a framework that we can work with and that is very clear for us."
Churcher said private daycare operators who have already qualified for the government funding had to sign complicated contracts on short notice in order to receive the funds.
She said both levels of government shouldn't presume Alberta daycare operators will instantly agree to the terms of the cost control framework. She wants to see a detailed framework as soon as possible, so operators can have time to review the specifics.
In the meantime, some daycares have been offering subsidized rates to parents without actually getting the subsidy, effectively operating at a loss on the hope that the funding will come later.
Others have been charging different fees to parents based on when their child enrolled, with longtime clients getting the subsidized rates and newly enrolled children paying full price for expanded daycare spaces that aren't yet eligible for the subsidy.
The provincial government did not provide a specific timeline for the release of the cost control framework.
"We expect to announce implementation details in the coming months," Anokwuru said. "Stay tuned for that."